P-40

Page 6

Much of the P-40’s success was due to the tactics developed by Chennault. Fighting in pairs, his men avoided turning dogfights with the more maneuverable Japanese fighters and utilized superior P-40 speed and firepower to “bounce” the enemy with quick passes and breakaways.

As the Japanese advanced southward in the Pacific, 337 P-40Es arrived in Australia between December 23, 1941, and March 18, 1942. Of these, 120 in provisional squadrons tried to reach Java, but only 36 actually arrived able to join the fight lost there by March 1st. Thirty-two had gone down with the USS Langley. CURTISS P-40N5

Much of the P-40’s success was due to the tactics developed by Chennault. Fighting in pairs, his men avoided turning dogfights with the more maneuverable Japanese fighters and utilized superior P-40 speed and firepower to “bounce” the enemy with quick passes and breakaways.




As the Japanese advanced southward in the Pacific, 337 P-40Es arrived in Australia between December 23, 1941, and March 18, 1942. Of these, 120 in provisional squadrons tried to reach Java, but only 36 actually arrived able to join the fight lost there by March 1st. Thirty-two had gone down with the USS Langley.

The 49th Group used the P-40E to defend Darwin and Port Moresby against frequent Japanese raids, beginning on March 14. Australian pilots also received P-40Es and went into combat with No. 75 squadron on March 21. P-40 pilots in Pacific areas were seldom as successful as the Flying Tigers, for Japanese Navy Zero fighters were tougher opponents, and the American pilots less experienced.

The USS Ranger took 68 P-40E-1s across the Atlantic and launched them off the deck on May 10, 1942, 150 miles from Accra, where they began difficult ferry flights across Africa through the Middle East to fill up the 51st Fighter Group* in India and the 23rd FG in China.

Entirely different weather conditions faced the 50 P-40Es of the 11th and 18th Fighter Squadrons in the Aleutians when Japan attacked Dutch Harbor June 3, 1942. They operated against Japanese forces on Attu and Kiska, and were joined to a P-38 squadron to form the 343rd Fighter Group on September 11, 1942.

By that time, Japan was surrounded by a ring of Warhawk units: the 343rd Group in Alaska, the 15th and 18th Groups in Hawaii (with 134 P-40B, C and Es in June) the 68th Fighter Squadron with 25 P-40Es on Tongatabu in the South Pacific, the 49th Fighter Group and the Australian squadrons in the southwest Pacific, and the 23rd and 51st Groups in China and India. In addition, there were Warhawks serving defense and training units from California to Panama, and in the Zone of the Interior.

Rolls-Royce Warhawks
The Allison engine’s poor high-altitude output limited P-40 performance severely below that of the Bf 109F used by the Germans. Better possibilities were offered with the production in America by Packard of the Rolls-Royce Merlin with a two-speed integral supercharger. Packard Merlins were scheduled for 1,000 aircraft in a September 1940 contract, as well as 312 added by a contract approved on May 3, l941.

A prototype was made by installing an imported Merlin 28 on the third P-40D airframe. The new XP-40F first flew June 30, 1941, and eliminated the carburetor intake above the nose that had been the Allison-engine P-40’s trademark. Beginning on January 3, 1942, Curtiss delivered 1,311 P-40F’s powered by the Packard V-1650-1 Merlin yielding 1,300 hp at 12,000 feet and 1,120 hp at 18,500 feet. They went down assembly lines side by side with the P-40E-l, for the supply of Merlin engines was insufficient to fill half of the Curtiss fighter’s production.

The first 699 P-40Fs had the same fuselage as the P-40E, but the P-40F-5 of August 1942, had 20 inches added to the length to improve directional stability. Minor mechanical changes were made on the P-40F-10, F-15, and F-20 series. Armed with six .50-caliber guns with 1,410 rounds in the wings, a 500-pound bomb, the P-40F’s armor weighed 149 pounds, the armor glass windshield weighed 36 pounds, and a 170-gallon drop tank could be attached on ferry flights.

Seven hundred P-40Ls with V-1650-1 Merlins ordered June 15, 1942, replaced the P-40F-20 on the production line in January 1943 and were similar in appearance. In fact, the first 50 P-40L-ls were identical to the last Fs, but the P-40L-5 was lightened by the deletion of the two .50-caliber outboard guns and a 37-gallon wing tank. Production of Merlin-powered Warhawks ended with the last P-40L-20 on April 28, 1943, as the new P-51B and P-51C Mustangs took the full Packard engine output.

Most of these Merlin-powered Hawks were allocated to the five groups sent to the Mediterranean theater. Because of the shortage of Packard engines, 300 P-40F and P-40L aircraft used in the U.S. for training had to be re-engined with Allison V-1710-81s, and were redesignated P-40R.

The 57th Fighter Group first took the P-40F-1 across the Atlantic on the USS Ranger, flying 72 Warhawks off the deck on July 19, 1942, to Accra and then in stages across Africa to Palestine. Their first mission supporting the British in Egypt was on August 9, 1942, and they fought in the Battle of El Alamein in October.

The Ranger’s next trip brought the 79th Group the same way, arriving in Egypt by November 12. A third P-40F group, the 324th, was added December 23 to what had become the Ninth Air Force.

The Twelfth Air Force, formed to support the American occupation of North Africa, had two Warhawk groups, the 33rd and 325th. The former flew 76 P-40Fs from the USS Chenango on November 8, 1942, but only 58 landed without damage near Casablanca. Twenty-four of those P-40Fs went to a French squadron in December 1942, which was later supplied with 49 P-40L-10s in March 1943.

The 33rd FG began combat with the Germans in December 1942 and was joined by the 325th, whose 72 P-40F-10s came from the Ranger on January 19, 1943, and entered combat on April 17. After the Axis surrender in North Africa on May 13, the Warhawks were strengthened for the invasion of Italy by the arrival on June 2 of P-40L-ls of the 99th Squadron. That was the first squadron entirely flown by African-American pilots, then barred from regular units by segregation.


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